Artistic Director's Statement
Artistic Director Donny McCaslin, left, with David Bowie.
I initially met David Bowie in 2014 on the recommendation of my longtime friend and collaborator, Maria Schneider. While Maria was collaborating with David on “Sue or in a Season of Crime” she played him my album “Casting for Gravity” which set the following events into motion.
That summer I played a gig with my band at the 55 Bar – a former speakeasy in the West Village with a long history of presenting cutting edge, improvised music. David showed up for the first set. Five months later, I was at the Magic Shop recording studio in New York City recording "Blackstar."
In the studio, David was unfailingly present and focused. He arrived punctually every morning and told us from the beginning that nothing would be off limits. While he gave us strong tunes with his unique perspective, we had complete freedom to play with what he gave us. This is the dream of every musician – to exist in an intentional, thoughtful, and playful environment.
Months later, I sat alone in David’s office, listening to the finished record for the first time, with tears in my eyes and a smile on my face … and then he was there, smiling, too. He, who’d lived with this music for months and through many iterations, was just as happy with how it turned out.
I was overwhelmed by the music, by the experience, by the relationship I had formed with David.
The idea to conceptualize "Blackstar" with orchestra came about when I was invited by the conductor and arranger, Jules Buckley, to perform with the Metropole Orkest in Holland. The program consisted mostly of original music from my album “Blow” along with two Bowie tunes - “Look Back in Anger” and “Warszawa.”
One night over dinner, as Jules and I reflected on how great “Warszawa” sounded with a full studio orchestra, we wondered what would, or could, "Blackstar" sound like presented on this scale. Until that point, I had been hesitant to revisit the music that inhabited such a sacred, emotional place for me.
Yet the idea of expanding "Blackstar" and seeing where we could take it compelled me. The record became a point of departure for our imaginations.
Tonight, you will hear "Blackstar" in its entirety, along with additional songs connected in my imagination. It is a reimagining of David’s work on a large-scale with some of the best orchestrators/arrangers on the planet – Jules Buckley, Tim Davies, Vince Mendoza, Maria Schneider, Jamshied Sharifi, Tony Visconti, Michael Dudley Jr., and Vellu Halkosalmi. I have included a few preludes and segues as meditations on the emotional valence of "Blackstar," as well as to transition through the composition changes in the program.
The making of "Blackstar" changed me, as a person and as a musician. Creative possibilities that once seemed remote suddenly feel possible, and the journey to follow what feels authentic and meaningful leads me to unexpected places now more than ever. David said to me "you know you’re on to something creative when you feel uncomfortable,” and I’m happy to report that I’ve been uncomfortable quite often these last few years, following the unclear path, and embracing the unexpected.
I love this music, and it is close to my heart. David was a remarkable human being; generous, humble, and very, very funny.
David refused to stay in one musical "lane" during his long career, playing with different musical styles and creating a musical language all his own. That principle is at work in this program in ways that are obvious and ways that are less so. I hope you enjoy the show!
Donny McCaslin
Artistic Director